Archive for Mel Ferrer

UN FILM DE ?????

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2019 by dcairns

Duvivier’s LA FETE A HENRIETTE has a neat premise and plays neat tricks, as its two screenwriters run through alternate possibilities for their romantic story. But the basic dynamic never satisfied me: the director sees the film as a light, charming, Rene Clair confection set on Bastille Day (Clair had in fact already made that film, as LE QUATORZE JUILLET, with Annabella in the ’30s). His writer keeps trying to turn it into a sexy melodrama full of underwear and killings. We see the alternative versions played out before us.

But it made me wonder why on earth the director keeps this writer around, since he hates all his ideas. And although we’re meant to sympathise with him, the writer’s bawdy caper with its Dutch tilts and lingerie looks a lot more fun. A more interesting dynamic might have been to give the power to the character with bad ideas, so we see a potentially sweet movie being wrecked.

George Axelrod and Richard Quine’s remake, PARIS… WHEN IT SIZZLES (most sources omit the ellipsis but it’s there in the title sequence) explodes the original concept in a number of ways. There’s only one writer, and he’s at war with himself, which is already more interesting. He has a stenographer with whom a romance blooms as the script is, falteringly, shaped. The real-life relationship merges with the characters in the film, with Audrey Hepburn and William Holden playing the leads in both “reality” and the film-within-the-film, which is called THE GIRL WHO STOLE THE EIFFEL TOWER and, unlike nearly all such meta-movies (the dire-looking MEET PAMELA in DAY FOR NIGHT being the prime example), actually looks like it might be diverting — in fact, it looks very much like HOW TO STEAL A MILLION. Fluffy, pointless, enjoyably diverting.

It even has Mel Ferrer changing from Jekyll to Hyde, as was his wont.

The mixing of reality and fantasy allows Axelrod and Quine to set up a lot of fun running gags, as the fictional avatars of our protagonist plagiarise their lines from real life, and get them stolen right back. Though it’s stuffed with pointless excess, both to parody gaudy Hollywood confections and to become one, it also has a narrative and manages to explain its impossible title quite neatly (there’s a film-within-the-film-within-the-film, you see, and it’s also called THE GIRL WHO STOLE THE EIFFEL TOWER — which, obviously, ought to have been the title of PARIS… WHEN IT SIZZLES too, and then we wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not to include the ellipsis — and the FWTFWTF gets stolen, so…).

A startling throwaway moment. This is 1964, people!

This leads us to Tony Curtis. While Marlene and Mel have uncredited cameos, Tony’s bit is actually quite substantial. When the real Audrey tells the real Bill that she has a date with an actor on Bastille Day, Holden gives his disgusted impression of the profession, summing up the Brando school of thespian as a bunch of preening slobs. He then begins his script with Audrey’s meta-character being dumped by her date, played by Curtis as an absurd, eye-lash fluttering, pouting, pose-striking, slouching Brando parody. Only also French. But with Tony Curtis’s Bronx accent.

As the plot progresses, though, Holden decides that the Curtis character is really an undercover cop. His boss, Gregoire “Coco” Aslan, keeps referring to him by his cover name rather than his real one, then scathingly tells him that really he’s just “second policeman.” So the gag becomes Tony Curtis, movie star, gamely allowing himself to play a humiliated bit actor in a nameless role. But there’s more! Maurice/Philippe (Tony) actually gets, probably, the biggest character/s arc of the movie. And reminds us of his astonishing comic skills.

Give this one a try! As a Parisian romp with Audrey, it ought to be frothy and charming, but it’s slightly too bitter, too Tashlinesque-zany, and salacious and shambling to be what, by rights, it ought to be aspiring to be. It’s too much like a Deluxe Color nervous breakdown. But, as such, it’s very interesting and often very funny.

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Scaramouche / Scaramouche

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2016 by dcairns

Can you do the fandango?

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All the fops love me. I am down with the fops.

I watched both versions of SCARAMOUCHE, the Metro silent and the MGM talkie. Fiona bailed on both after ten minutes apiece. You have to be in the right mood for fencing and foppery.

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Rex Ingram helmed the 1923 version, starring his discovery Ramon Novarro and his wife Ellen Terry. It’s apparently more faithful to Rafael Sabatini’s novel, which one senses while watching because the plot makes sense and doesn’t depend on outlandish coincidence. Not so the remake.

Lewis Stone (below, left) is in both versions. I like when that happens. He’s the big baddie in the Ingram but is demoted to a lesser Frenchman in George Sidney’s 1952 swashbuckler. (It was seeing and enjoying Sidney’s KISS ME KATE that got me onto this SCARAMOUCHE kick.)

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In the remake, the title character is actually a drunken, disfigured actor who wears a mask to perform. Stewart Granger steals his identity and we never see him again. The makeup, we are told, is created by William Tuttle. “Created,” you note. Not just slapped on. CREATED. Tuttle does that weird thing he does (his brushwork is very recognizable) where the lines of the face seem like whorls, layers of liquid solidified in the act of pouring on like thick cream.

The role is played by Henry Corden, and he’s uncredited. In the title role! Poor bastard. He actually IS Scaramouche. Granger just takes his name and costume, the cheeky sod.

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The leads: in the silent, the cast are all equally decent and equally a bit miscast. Novarro reminds himself to laugh cynically upon occasion to remind us he was born with a sense the world was mad. In the Technicolor talkie, Stewart Granger is required to play the hero as a total dick for quite a lot of screen time. He does it with aplomb. Mel Ferrer is his opponent, and the plot has been rejigged to make their backstory suitable for contemporaries. Now, Ferrer’s character is also a dick, and one notices that he’s more than usually appealing in the role. In fact, either of these guys could have played the baddie, but neither is right for the hero. They have a kind of charisma but not a likability. I never really noticed Ferrer’s charisma anywhere else because the prevailing feeling was that I didn’t like him. Being a villain liberates him.

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Kudos to those two lugs also for committing to the really terrific duels, which Sidney shoots like musical numbers, sweeping crane shots broken up with a few static compositions that pop in contrast. The business looks physically exhausting and a little risky. The final sword fight is supposed to be the longest ever, but doesn’t feel protracted, just satisfyingly thorough. PRINCESS BRIDE fans may notice a bit of business.

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Much of the deforming of the storyline seems to be intended to favour Eleanor Parker as “Lenore,” a role seemingly created especially for her (note the name). The equivalent role in the silent is a fairly small bit by comparison. But the real female lead is Janet Leigh (above), the only American cast who doesn’t bother trying to change her natural accent, and as a result the most natural player in the film (Nina Foch does wonders, though, as Marie Antoinette). Best scene is probably Granger hitting on Leigh and then discovering she’s his long-lost sister. Well-played, Jimmy! (Granger’s birth name was Jimmy Stewart, which for obvious reasons he had to change, but everyone still called him Jimmy. Why didn’t he choose Jimmy Granger?)

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Both movies showcase dramatic glass shots.

As mentioned in comments earlier, the MGM movie surprisingly omits the French Revolution, which is built up to and then dropped as an apparently still-hot potato. Structurally, this is acceptable because it allows the movie to climax with the splendid duel, but it does seem to imply that the (off-screen) King’s democratic compromises were successful in appeasing the people. The Metro version takes the more mature line that the Revolution was good but the Rein of terror bad, but this means that it kind of lacks a strong ending, fizzling out with the hero and his new-found family simply running away. But it finds a more satisfying fate for its bad guy (whereas Mel Ferrer simply evaporates, an odd result in a film driven entirely by the hero’s thirst for revenge).

A new version could be interesting. Neither movie quite joins the dots between the hero’s politics, his revenge quest and his career as a clown, whereas the first sentence of Sabatini’s book already gives me confidence that he’s working on a Unified Theory of Revolutionary Swashbuckling.

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In the 70s, when Richard Lester was having a lot of success with, broadly speaking, this kind of material, Dustin Hoffman, of all people, approached him with the idea of a remake. Part of his obsession with playing superannuated students, I guess. Lester met him and they got on well, but politely declined the job, feeling that Hoffman’s perfectionism and we might call his own kick-scramble-bollocks approach were ill-matched and bound to end in heartache or nervous breakdowns.

 

You Need Hands

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2010 by dcairns

I needed the obscure 60s remake of THE HANDS OF ORLAC, since it appears in Denis Gifford’s big green book of horror movies, and you know what that means. Sending off for an out-of-print VHS, I awaited the thing’s arrival with a certain lack of enthusiasm — I had actually seen bits of it years ago, and found it, well, terribly boring.

It’s amazing the difference a few years can make. But, on the other hand, THE HANDS OF ORLAC is still just as boring as it always was. Director Edmond T Greville was responsible for BEAT GIRL the previous year, which is eighteen separate kinds of HOOT, but how much of its unquestionably mad merits can be credited to the director? OK, he wrote the story too, and he must get credit for wrestling Gillian Hills, David Farrar, Christopher Lee, Oliver Reed and Adam Faith into the one movie. But his visual style is often pretty flat, his control of pace sometimes flaccid, and those negative qualities are allowed to dominate ORLAC.

You know the story — concert pianist Stephen Orlac (gangling meerkat Mel Ferrer) suffers horrific injuries to his hands in an accident, and a brilliant surgeon repairs the damage — but has he done so by transplanting the hands of a murderer? And will those hands resume their homicidal career from the ends of their new wrists?

No, and no. But getting to that answer is a protracted and largely tension-free drag, enlivened only by the appearance or lovely couple Chris Lee and Dany Carrel. Lee is a criminally inclined stage magician and Carrel his chanteuse squeeze, whom he persuades to seduce the fugitive Ferrer. Chris and Dany have a genuinely warm and delightful relationship:

“You made me into a slut, ” she accuses. Lee counters that she didn’t need much pushing. Charming.

Dany gets Mel’s interest by blundering into his room and having the front of her dress collapse in his face. This is typical behaviour of the rather adorable Ms. Carrel, who spent her career popping out, as in this perverse moment from MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN, a colourful yet turgid French horror —

It’s a strain, but she manages it. As early as 1957, in Duvivier’s POT-BOUILLE, she was bursting her bodice in Gerard Philippe’s direction (her co-star was Danielle Darrieux: Dany might not be able to out-act this living legend, but she could beat her in the random nudity department), and you can see her in archive footage in the new documentary about Henri-Georges Clouzot’s L’ENFER, again managing a nip-slip, I believe it’s called, setting off a chain of reactions in a lakeside restaurant. It’s a cheesy idea, one would think, but Clouzot gets some simply incredible stuff out of it, his camera gliding decisively from one glance to another. Vulgarity + excellence = Clouzot.

Sexy bad guys Chris and Dany are so much more exciting than protags Ferrer and Lucile Saint-Simon that one wishes for a whole other movie centering on the bad guys. Greville’s screenplay doesn’t provide this, of course, and it short-changes us out of the expected pleasure of an ORLAC movie also, wasting the great moment where the villain dresses up as an executed killer, brought back from the dead and demanding the return of his hands. Lee pops up in a crappy rubber mask, sporting a pair of hooks, then whips the disguise off within seconds.

But then, the movie’s explicit demonstration that Ferrer’s idée fixe (having the hands of murderer) is only a delusion has already spoiled the plot, and without really getting inside the hero’s disturbed mind, or turning him full-on psycho and letting him kill someone, the movie has no actual narrative resources to scare us with.

An intriguing image NOT present in my VHS copy. There’s a separate, uncensored French cut? What’s he going to write? Is that the first downstroke of the letter “B”, as in “BREASTS” — is he teaching her English?

So the whole mess is a valuable example of the fabled Million Dollar Mistake, or False Good Idea, in action — exposing the twist before the climax leaves the film without a motor to drive it forward, since we can assume a happy ending for the nice, middle-class hero and heroine, and a less-than happy one for the declassé du of Lee and Carrel. And we get both… eventually.